Rights and Responsibilities of Conscientious Objectors under the Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 (Vic)
W(h)ither Human Rights, 25th Annual Law and Society Association of Australia and New Zealand Conference, Sydney, 2008
8 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2012
Date Written: August 8, 2012
The landmark Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 (Vic), which came into force on 23 October 2008, has decriminalised abortion in Victoria. A woman’s informed consent is now the only requirement for a termination of pregnancy up to 24 weeks gestation. After 24 weeks, two medical practitioners must determine that a termination is appropriate in all the circumstances. While this provides health practitioners who perform abortions through either medical or surgical means with the clarity and security they have long sought, health practitioners who object to abortion on grounds of conscience are now in unchartered legal territory. When requested by a patient or client to provide advice on or perform an abortion, s8 of the new Act imposes certain obligations on registered health practitioners who object to abortion on grounds of conscience. The provision has sparked considerable disquiet among Catholic health practitioners and other ‘doctors of conscience’. Critics of the clause claim that, far from protecting the right to freedom of conscience, the clause in effect violates that right. This paper analyses the relevant clause – s8 of the Abortion Law Reform Act – and tests the claim that it infringes the human rights of health practitioners who object to abortion by compelling them to act against their conscience. It argues that the obligations created do not unduly infringe on freedom of conscience because practitioners are able to take simple steps to prevent the obligations arising.
Keywords: abortion, conscientious objection, rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, law reform, responsibilities of practitioners
JEL Classification: K00, K19
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation